McHenry County Clerk Joe Tirio Reports on What Went Wrong in Vote Counting and Remedies

From McHenry County Clerk Joe Tirio comes this:

About this document. ………………………..…………………………………………………. 3
What happened?………………………………………………………..……………………….. 3
What caused the results to be inaccurate?…………………………….………………….. 4
How did we address the problem and correct the results? ………..…………….. 5
What was the root cause of the problem? …………………..……..……………………… 6
How can we prevent this from happening again?………………………….…………. 6
What’s Next? ……………………………………………………………….………………………. 7

About this document.

We’ve organized this document into sections that address what we believe are the most common questions that could be asked, and we’ve tried to answer those questions keeping in mind the different contexts of the reader.

From candidate, to elected official, to the voting public, we realize that your interests and concerns are different, and attempt to write this in a way that addresses all those perspectives.

We have also attempted to keep this brief and less technical in the hope that more people would read it.

What happened?

 On election night (April 6th), the unofficial results that were posted included some results that were incorrect.

At approximately 9:30 PM, we posted what we thought was our final update for the night. A few minutes later, we received contact from a Democratic Precinct Committeeperson (PC) and poll watcher that two candidates in a school board race had received zero votes, despite the fact that voters had confirmed having voted for these candidates on Election Day and at this particular location.

After looking at the tapes, voter counts, results from testing, and consulting with the vendor, we could find no logical explanation to contradict the posted results.

Further validation would require opening the ballot boxes.

It was at that point we invited the reporting PC and the Chair of the Party to retabulate the results of the affected polling place the following day at 2:00 PM.

After further review later that evening and the following morning, it became clear that this was not an isolated incident.

We contacted the Chairs of both the Democratic and Republican parties, informed them of our findings and our intent to do a full recount on Thursday morning.

We asked them to provide Judges to participate in the proceedings.

What caused the tabulators to report inaccurate results?

 The coding in the tabulators was looking for results in the wrong places on ballots for some of the races.

We spent Wednesday the 7th:
• Trying to understand the cause of the erroneous reporting
• Developing a plan to correctly report the results, and
• Testing our approach to be sure that it yielded accurate results.
The Clerk, Chief Deputy Clerk, IT Systems Analyst, Field Representative from our vendor (ES&S) and numerous others via phone and email worked on the issue through the day and late into the evening. After testing a number of hypotheses, we concluded that (in simple terms) the tabulators were not in “sync” with the printed “fill in the oval” style ballots for some races. In other words, the tabulators were looking for the ovals in a particular place, when in fact the oval was in a different location on the printed ballot. [Emphasis added.]

This would cause a number of potential inaccuracies, including:
• Reading an oval above or below the target candidate as being registered
as a vote for the target candidate.
• Reading an empty space above or below the target and registering that as
the absence of a vote for the target candidate.
• Reading the printed text above or below the target candidate and
registering that as a vote for the target candidate.

On closer inspection, it was determined that the file sent to the printer to print ballots was an earlier version of the ballot than the version used to program and test the tabulators.

The newer version of the file added information about term duration in school board races.

It was this additional information that moved text on the ballot and caused the out of sync issue.

This change would affect the outcome of school board races, and potentially other races on the ballot as they could also be affected by the difference in spacing between races and candidates.

It was further determined that early voting results were not affected (as they used the ExpressVote ballots).

Vote by mail ballots were affected as they use the “fill in the oval” style ballot.

How did we address the problem and correct the results?

Once we tested our understanding of the problem, our Field Representative
from ES&S worked with us to correct the issues and create election definitions that would allow us to retabulate the votes.

We then tested the solution to be sure that it produced the proper outcomes.

The following morning (Thursday the 8th) at 9:00 am, we began the retabulation of Election day and Vote-by-mail ballots.

In attendance were:
• Representation from both the Democratic and Republican parties
• Attorneys from the Democratic party and the State’s Attorney office
• The Field Representative from ES&S
• IT Systems Analyst
• Staff from the County Clerk’s office including the Clerk and Chief Deputy.

The retabulation continued until approximately 10:00 PM.

After the retabulation was complete, the participants were provided a draft results report.

The data was further reviewed Friday morning, and posted midday on our election results site.

What was the root cause of the problem?

 After careful investigation and interviewing involved parties, it was
determined that an employee had provided the wrong version of a file for
ballot printing.

As you can likely imagine, there are hundreds of files and numerous revisions that have to come together to make an election.

Compounding the problem is that, for security purposes, the election is managed on two, completely separated networks. One network is completely isolated.

This prevents us from using most (if not all) typical version control applications.

How can we prevent this from happening again?

While we fully intend to put different controls in place going forward, as it has only been a week since the issue arose, we have not yet had an opportunity to do our due diligence in developing a solution.

Some things we are considering are:
 Ballot comparison software: The vendor representative used an
application to compare versions of the ballots and highlight the
differences. This could help identify an issue before we go to print.
 Using some sort of version indicator on the printed ballot.
 Protocols for the transport of files from one network to another with the
purpose of preventing version confusion again.
 Procedural changes.

What’s Next?

There is still work to be done:
• Before this election is truly “over”, the office will still have to wait until
fourteen days after Election Day to allow for remaining vote by mail ballots
to arrive. Any ballots that are postmarked on or before Election Day can
be counted.
• On April 19th, we will perform our mandatory public retabulation of a
sample of votes as selected by the State Board of Elections.
• On April 26th, we will perform the official canvassing of the election.
• This summer we will be working to implement software and processes that will tie PINs to voter registration records. This will allow us to correlate
individual properties to taxing and voting districts.

I am sure there are other questions. I stand ready to answer them. Please do
not hesitate to call or write.

Joseph J. Tirio
McHenry County Clerk and Recorder
(815) 334-4234


McHenry County Clerk Joe Tirio Reports on What Went Wrong in Vote Counting and Remedies — 11 Comments

  1. If you want a paper ballot, Duncan Hines, avail yourself of vote-by-mail or go on election day and ask for one.

    Works every time.

  2. DH, one more thing….. if you actually READ the Clerk’s response, the problem was with paper ballots.

    Had you voted electronically, no problem.

    There goes your theory.

  3. A mistake does not imply a bad employee, Burger.

    In my home precinct for many years, depending on the election type, we might have 5 separate ballot styles.

    Now multiply times precincts in the county, and you’ve got quite a lot of unique ballots to construct, maintain and to register to the scanning software.

    Add in last minute ballot changes, 🤷‍♂️

    Nothing nefarious, just human error.

    It was brought to attention, reviewed in an open and bipartisan manner.

    Nothing burger


  4. Is it the paper’s fault or the machine’s fault that the machine could not read the paper?

    Because any person looking at a ballot would have no problem whatsoever determining who the voter intended to vote for.

    Electronic votes are just paper votes with an extra step.

    You still use paper (paper that is half the size but double the cost) and it goes into the same tabulator machine that the paper ballots go into, just into a different slot.

    The problem isn’t with the paper ballots.

    It’s obviously a machine problem.

    “After testing a number of hypotheses, we concluded that (in simple terms) the tabulators were not in “sync” with the printed “fill in the oval” style ballots for some races. In other words, the tabulators were looking for the ovals in a particular place, when in fact the oval was in a different location on the printed ballot. [Emphasis added.]”

    If the machines weren’t in sync, it’s the machine’s problem.

    The printed paper ballots are fixed, unchanging, and uniform.

    People here are talking about using more primitive computers/machines to count the paper votes or to count them by hand.

    The technology the clerk has been using has only been used here for about 5 years and we have had some big problems during that time.

    Before that, we had completely different machines and processes.

  5. @johnsburger Maybe they are a union employee and can’t be fired?

  6. Perhaps you will remember that people voting early at the Huntley Park District complained that when they pushed one candidate’s name the opponent’s name came up.

    One person said she had to push her favorite’s four or five times to get her vote recorded.

  7. Tirio has failed us and smokes the ‘go along, getalong’ peace pipe.

    Prim, Tirio and Wilke: a bunch of fakes.

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